Ten Days That
inside information from an uprising
[Plus: The Class Struggle in Iraq - an interview with a veteran]
Zakhu, Iraq, 27 April 1991 - a refugee camp for the thousands
of Kurds who left their homes to flee from Iraqi government
forces following the fighting that broke out in Iraq after
Operation Desert Storm.
both documents were written in 1991
in the wake of the first Gulf War
firestarter press. May 2003
One Thousand Emotions, March 2006
Back Cover Photo:
"Death Mile" on the highway from Kuwait City to Iraq after
massacre by U.S. forces, 25 February 1991. U.S. war planes
and helicopters circled over the road for hours, destroying
every vehicle, including ambulances, and killing thousands of
fleeing Iraqis. (Photo: E. Adams/Corbis Sygma)
For more copies of this
and other materiai, write to:
One Thousand Emotions
PO Box 63333
St. Louis, MO 63163
Ten Days That Shook Iraq
The following text was published as a four page leaflet in 1991 and was one
of the first sources of information in English about the uprisings in Southern
Iraq and Kurdistan. It was later published in the magazine 'Wildcat.'
The Gulf war was not ended by the military victory of
America and the Allies. It was ended by the mass desertion of
thousands of Iraqi soldiers. So overwhelming was the refusal to
fight for the Iraqi state on the part of its conscripted army that,
contrary to all predictions, not one Allied soldier was killed by
hostile fire in the final ground offensive to recapture Kuwait.
Indeed the sheer scale of this mutiny is perhaps unprecedented
in modern military history.
But these mutinous troops did not simply flee back to Iraq.
On their return many of them turned their guns against the Iraqi
state, sparking a simultaneous uprising in both Southern Iraq
and in Kurdistan to the North. Only the central region of Iraq
surrounding Baghdad remained firmly in the state's hands in
the weeks following the end of the war.
From the very start the Western media has grossly
misrepresented these uprisings. The uprising in the South,
centred on Basra, was portrayed as a Shia Muslim revolt.
Whereas the insurrection in the North was reported as an
exclusively Kurdish Nationalist uprising which demanded little
more than an autonomous Kurdish region within Iraq.
The truth is that the uprisings in both the North and South of
Iraq were proletarian insurrections.
Basra is one of the most secular areas in the Middle East.
Almost no one goes to the mosques in Basra. The radical
traditions in this area are not those of Islamic fundamentalism
but rather those of Arab Nationalism and Stalinism. The Iraqi
Communist Party is the only bourgeois party with any significant
influence in this region. The cities of Basra, Nasriah and Hilah
have long been known as the region of the Communist Party
and have a long history of open rebellion against both religion
and the state. The "Iraqi" working class has always been one of
the most troublesome in a volatile region.
In the North, there is little sympathy for the Nationalist
parties - the KDP and the PUK - and their peshmergas (guerrilla
movements) due to the repeated failure of their compromises
with the Iraqi state. This is particularly true in the Sulaimania
area. The inhabitants of the area have been especially hostile to
the Nationalists since the Halabja massacre. Following the
chemical attack by the Iraqi air force against deserters and
civilians in the city of Halabja in 1988, the peshmergas initially
prevented people from fleeing and then went on to pillage and
rape those who survived the massacre. As a result, many
villagers have long since refused to feed or shelter nationalist
peshmergas. As in the South, the Communist Party and its
peshmergas are more popular.
The uprising in the North was not nationalist. In the early
stages Ba'athist officials and secret police were executed,
police files were destroyed and the prisons stormed. People
were openly hostile to the bourgeois policies of the Kurdish
Nationalists. In Sulaimania the Nationalist peshmergas were
excluded from the city and the exiled leader of the Patriotic
Union of Kurdistan, Jalal Talabani, was prevented from
returning to his hometown. When the Kurdish Democratic Party
leader, Massoud Barzani, went to Chamcharnal, near to
Sulaimania, he was attacked and two of his bodyguards were
killed. When the Nationalists broadcast the slogan: "Now's the
time to kill the Ba'athists!" the people of Sulaimania replied with
the slogan: "Now's the time for the Nationalists to loot
Porsches!", meaning that the Nationalists were only interested
A revolutionary group, "Communist Perspective", played a
major role in the insurrection. In their publication, "Proletariat",
they advocated the setting up of workers' councils. This
provoked fear and anger among the Nationalists, as well as the
Communist Party and its splinter groups.
Faced with these proletarian uprisings the various bourgeois
interests in the region had to suspend hostilities and unite to
suppress them. It is well known that the West, led by the USA,
But despite everything, nationalism hasn't managed to
create unbridgeable obstacles. Proof of this is the latest
uprising. When Iraqis in the south rose up against Saddam
after the war, their efforts were supported by northerners.
Arab soldiers in the north, voluntarily gave up their arms to
Q: Finally let us talk about the future of the class struggle in Iraq.
I think the Americans are still banking on a Romanian
scenario, i.e. a popular uprising from below followed by a
preplanned coup d'etat from above to oust Saddam. Do you
A: Yes, probably. But the Iraqi situation is more complicated
than Romania, and the divisions between Kurds and Arabs,
Arab and Turks, and Sunni and Shi'ite muslims could easily
lead to a prolonged civil war situation. And the next regime
will probably be more religiously orientated. So there are
differences with Romania.
The strongest party seems to be the Al-Dawa (Shi'ite)
which receives backing from Iran. The Radical Ba'ths are not
very popular and has connections with Syria. The I.C.P
hasn't got the power it once used to have but mustn't be
underestimated. Its base, however, seems to be amongst
the elder generations and not the young.
As for the Patriotic Union of Kurds (PUK) and the
Democratic Party of Kurdistan (DPK), they used to have
about 5000 armed peshmergas before the recent events
and are not as significant a force as the media makes out.
The Kurdish towns are being taken not by the political
parties but the people. Akhvan al-muslimin is the last
powerful Sunni organisation being supported by both Egypt
and at times US.
All in all it must be said that the future of autonomous
proletarian activity in Iraq is not very bright.
again, we have once again started to organise ourselves
and meet regularly.
Q: The media here is explicitly giving encouragement to Kurdish
nationalism. Can you tell us a little about the origins of
A: In the mid 50's there was no such thing as a Kurdish
nationalist movement in Iraq. Sometimes at times of crisis,
capitalism would financially induce a Kurdish feudal
landlord to organise something, that they would name a
'nationalist movement'. In order to give these leaders
credibility, the central government would move 'against'
At these times, there was no real Kurdish patriotic
identity, it had to be artificially fostered. Arabs and Kurds
viewed their struggle as one. Kurdish nationalist leaders
who shared power with the central government, broke with
them once they received support from the west and the
Shah. But they lacked a popular base and had to escape to
the mountains. They organised a militia but were defeated
severely at first because their soldiers were not volunteers.
Learning from their mistakes, they organised the Peshmerga
- a guerrilla outfit - and looked for better weapons. They
began to engage in sectarian murder. For example, they
would get hold of an Arab driver and execute him for being
Q: Sounds a bit like Irish nationalists over here?
A: Yes, very similar, innocent Arab workers and students were
murdered, and the government in turn would make capital
out of this by publicising 'Kurdish' atrocities, whipping up
anti-Kurdish sentiments. Iraqi generals would deliberately
send young, inexperienced soldiers into Kurdish areas,
knowing full well they were cannon-fodder for the
peshmerga. The next day, a Kurdish village would be
destroyed by the regular Iraqi army in revenge. All these
tactics helped to divide the proletariat.
have long backed Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. They
supported him in the war against Iran.
In supporting Saddam the Western ruling class also
recognised that the Ba'athist Party, as a mass based fascist
party, was the only force in Iraq capable and ruthless enough to
repress the oil producing proletariat.
However, Saddam's ultimate strategy for maintaining social
peace in Iraq was for a permanent war drive and militarisation
of society. But such a strategy could only lead to further
economic ruin and the intensification of class antagonisms. In
the Spring of 1990 this contradiction was becoming blatant.
The Iraqi economy was shattered after eight years of war with
Iran. Oil production, the main source of hard currency, was
restricted while oil prices were relatively low. The only options
for redeeming wartime promises of prosperity in peace were a
rise in the price of oil or more war. The former choice was
blocked by Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Saddam's bold leap to
resolve this impasse was to annex Kuwait and its rich oil fields.
This gave America the opportunity to reassert its political
hegemony, not only in the Middle East, but also in the world as
a whole. With the hope of exorcising the spectre of Vietnam, the
Bush regime prepared for all-out war. The Bush administration
hoped for a quick and decisive victory that would evict Iraq from
Kuwait but at the same time leave the Iraqi regime intact.
However, to mobilise the home front for war. Bush had to
equate Saddam with Hitler and so became increasingly
committed publicly to toppling the Iraqi leader.
With this commitment the American government now sought
to impose such a military defeat on the Ba'athist Party would be
obliged to replace Saddam with someone else. Indeed the Bush
regime openly invited the ruling circles in Iraq to replace
Saddam Hussein with the approach of the ground war in March.
However, the mass desertion of Iraqi conscripts and the
subsequent uprisings in Iraq robbed the American government
of such a convenient victory. Instead they faced the prospect of
the uprising turning into a full scale proletarian revolution, with
all the dire consequences this would have for the accumulation
of capital in the Middle East.
The last thing the American government wanted was to be
drawn into a prolonged military occupation of Iraq in order to
suppress the uprisings. It was far more efficient to back the
existing state. But there was no time to insist on the removal of
Saddam Hussein. They could ill afford the disruption this would
cause. Hence, almost overnight, Bush's hostility to the butcher
of Baghdad evaporated. The two rival butchers went into
Their first task was to crush the uprising in the South which
was being swelled by the huge columns of deserters streaming
north from Kuwait. Even though these fleeing Iraqi conscripts
posed no military threat to Allied troops, or to the objective of
"liberating" Kuwait, the war was prolonged long enough for
them to be carpet bombed on the road to Basra by the RAF and
the USAF. This cold blooded massacre served no other purpose
than to preserve the Iraqi state from mutinous armed deserters.
Following this massacre the Allied ground forces, having
swept through southern Iraq to encircle Kuwait, stopped short
of Basra and gave free rein to the Republican Guards - the elite
troops loyal to the Iraqi regime - to crush the insurgents. All
proposals to inflict a decisive defeat on the Republican Guards
or to proceed towards Baghdad to topple Saddam were quickly
forgotten. In the ceasefire negotiations the Allied forces insisted
on the grounding of all fixed wing aircraft but the use of
helicopters vital for counter-insurgency was permitted for
"administrative purposes". This "concession" proved important
once the uprising in the South was put down and the Iraqi
state's attention turned to the advancing insurrection in the
Whereas the uprising in the Basra region was crushed
almost as it began, the Northern uprising had more time to
develop. It began in Raniah and spread to Sulaimania and Kut
and at its height threatened to spread beyond Kurdistan to the
capital. The original aim of the uprising was expressed in the
slogan: "We will celebrate our New Year with the Arabs in
Baghdad!" The defeat of this rebellion owed as much to the
Kurdish Nationalists as to the Western powers and the Iraqi
to anarchist ideas by comrades from Baghdad. There was a
Lebanese Journal, called Darasat al-arabie, which was
critical of both Leninism and Marxism. We didn't always
agree with them, but they influenced us greatly.
Q: Did these revolutionaries develop their own independent
critique of Leninism or did they borrow it from the west?
A: Unfortunately us 'eastern' communists have always been
awe-struck by our 'western' comrades, and looked in their
direction for divine inspiration as muslims look at Kiblah
(Direction towards which muslims turn in praying).
Consequently we have always relied on them for an
understanding of capitalism.
But gradually we came to realise that the previous
parties we were involved in were like cages for our minds,
stifling our independence. Consequently we rejected 'Third
Worldism' and 'Socialist' revolution and understood that the
only worthwhile path is a Communist revolution (the
abolition of wage slavery, money and the state). We began
criticising Lenin here and there but a complete critique of
Leninism came later.
At this stage we decided to form a new organisation
called Fasileh (later renamed Kar). Our programme was very
eclectic. It contained good and also bad things. With the
help of some Anarchists we started publishing a magazine
in Arabic and Kurdish The level of class struggle inside Iraq
was very low, but the regime's repression was fierce. The
state tried very hard to find us but we were careful.
Mokhaberat (security service) would offer reward for our
arrest and finally they raided us.
I got away but a comrade was later arrested, and most
probably executed. We decided to send some comrades
abroad to learn from the experience of the world proletariat
and establish internationalist contacts. But when we got
here, we found the level of class struggle was even lower!
This coupled with the usual refugee problems led to petty
personal quibblings which made us forget the purpose of
coming abroad. But now that things are beginning to pick up
remained very popular. He is now Ba'thist ambassador to
Q: Unlike neighbouring Iran where guerrilla activity by leftists
never threatened the regime.
A: Yes, in Iraq armed struggle was far more widespread.
Assassinations of individual capitalists led to wide-scale
armed confrontations, and it must be said these actions
were extremely popular amongst the population. But the
truth is that our security measures were inadequate. We
temporarily controlled the streets because we had guns but
when the '68 coup d'etat succeeded, we became very
exposed. Even our leaders made horrendous mistakes, and
a lot of comrades were arrested and executed.
I don't want to give the impression that the regime only
used repression in dealing with the class struggle. No, they
used the usual carrot and stick tactics and it worked.
Between 1968 and 1974 the state became far more
powerful. Again in 1972 the I.C.P. entered into a pact with
Ba'ths. It is incredible how completely degenerate these
Stalinists are. In 1975 the Algiers Agreement between
Saddam and the Shah, meant that both leaders could turn
their attention towards their internal problems. The Kurdish
uprising collapsed very fast and Saddam became even more
Q: Can you now talk about your own break first from Stalinism
and then from Leninism in general?
A: We knew some comrades in Baghdad, Basra and Kurdistan
who were also dissatisfied with the prevalent ideologies. At
that time, we thought armed guerrilla struggle was the be all
and end all of the revolution, but gradually and under the
influence of the Iranian revolution we became very critical of
I made two visits to Iran during the revolution and
brought back new ideas. We became acquainted with
Trotsky's critique of Stalin and later on we were introduced
Like all nationalist movements the Kurdish Nationalists
defend the interests of the propertied classes against the
working class. Most Kurdish Nationalist leaders come from very
rich families. For example, Talabani comes from a dynasty
originally set up by the British and his parents own luxury hotels
in England. The KDP was set up by rich exiles driven out of
Kurdistan by the mass working class uprisings of 1958 when
hundreds of landowners and capitalist were strung up. As a
result of these disturbing events a meeting of exiled bourgeois
in Razaeia, Iran, organised nationalist death squads to kill class
struggle militants in Iraqi Kurdistan. Later they carried out racist
murders of Arabs. During the Iraq-lran war very few deserters
joined the nationalists and the PUK received an amnesty from
the Iraqi state in return for repressing deserters.
These Kurdish Nationalists, like the international
bourgeoisie, recognised the importance of a strong Iraqi state in
order to maintain capital accumulation against a militant
working class. So much so, in fact, that they merely demanded
that Iraqi Kurdistan be granted the status of an autonomous
region within a united Iraq.
In the uprising they did their best to defend the Iraqi state.
They actively intervened to prevent the destruction of police
files and state property, including military bases. The
Nationalists stopped Arab deserters from Joining the "Kurdish"
uprising, disarmed them, and sent them back to Baghdad to be
arrested. They did all they could to prevent the uprising from
spreading beyond the "borders" of Kurdistan which was its only
hope of success. When the Iraqi state began to turn its
attention to the uprising in Kurdistan the Kurdish Nationalists'
radio broadcasts did not encourage or co-ordinate resistance
but instead exaggerated the threat posed by the demoralised
Iraqi troops still loyal to the government and advised people to
flee to the mountains. Which they eventually did. None of this is
any surprise if we examine their history.
Although, as we have seen, there was much hostility
towards the Kurdish Nationalists, they were able to gain control
and bring to a halt the insurrection in Kurdistan because of
their organisation and greater material resources. Having been
long backed by the West - the KDP by the USA and the PUK by
Britain - it was the Kurdish Nationalist parties that were able to
control the supply of food and information. This was vital, since
after years of deprivation, exacerbated by the war, the search
for food was an overriding concern. Many individuals were
mainly content with looting food, rather than with maintaining
revolutionary organisation and the development of the
insurrection. This weakness allowed the Nationalist
organisations to step in with their ample supplies of food and
well established radio stations.
The War in the Gulf was brought to an end by the refusal of
the Iraqi working class to fight and by the subsequent uprisings
in Iraq. But such proletarian actions were crushed by the
combined efforts of the various international and national
bourgeois forces. Once again, nationalism has served as the
stumbling block for proletarian insurrection. While it is
important to stress that Middle East politics is not dominated by
Islamic fundamentalism and Arab Nationalism, as it is usually
portrayed in the bourgeois press, but rests on class conflict, it
must be said that the immediate prospects for the development
of working class struggle in Iraq are now bleak.
The war not only resulted in the defeat of the Iraqi working
class but also revealed the state of defeat of the working class
in the USA, and, to a lesser degree, Europe. The western anti-
war movement never developed into a mass working class
opposition to the war. It remained dominated by a pacifist
orientation that "opposed" the war in terms of an alternative
national interest: "Peace is Patriotic". While it expressed
abhorrence of the Allies' holocaust it opposed doing anything to
stop it that might bring it into confrontation with the state.
Instead it concentrated on futile symbolic protest that simply
fostered the sense of helplessness in the face of the state's war
Following the defeat of the insurrection, the Western
media's misrepresentation continued. The proletariat was
represented as helpless victims, ripe for patronizing by the
charities, grateful for the spectacles of pop stars flogging the
Live Aid horse once more. For those that remembered the
uprising a "Let It Be... Kurdistan" t-shirt was the obvious answer.
Whilst the uprising was defeated we cannot allow its aims and
Q: Why was there so much support for the I.C.P. and Kurdish
nationalists despite their reactionary policies?
A: That is a difficult question. The people were not happy with
either group and especially felt let down by the I.C.P. , but
there was no real revolutionary alternative so people tended
to give the I.C.P. the benefit of the doubt and apologise for
their 'shortcomings'. They would say naively: "The Iraqi
Communist Party is young and is bound to make mistakes,
but soon they would mature like their Russian and Chinese
counterparts" (!!) I suppose there just wasn't the necessary
consciousness to see these parties for what they are.
In 1963 Qasim was overthrown by the Ba'thists and a
period of intense violence resulted in the death of
thousands of activists. The Ba'ths were supplied a list of
known 'trouble makers' probably by the CIA. During Qasim's
last days the people demanded weapons from him for
protection against the National Guards, but he refused to
arm them. Even then the military were so unpopular that
they had to trick the people in order to get into the cities.
They put photographs of Qasim at the front of their tanks,
the people thought they intended to defend them from the
Ba'thists, so they were not opposed, until it was too late.
Q: The Ba'ths first experiment in dictatorship was unsuccessful
but they got into power again in 1968. Can you tell us about
Saddam Flussein's personal path towards power?
A: Saddam was a cut throat petty gangster, which is probably
why no one took him too seriously at first. Flis role in the
attempted assassination of Qasim was exaggerated later.
Gradually he made himself a power base with the help of his
Takriti tube and important landlords.
During the 60s there was a critical re-assessment of the
I.C.P. policies of United Front with the Iraqi bosses which
eventually led to a split by 'Aziz al-FlaJJ who was influenced
by Mao and Che Guevara. Flis guerrilla actions were
unsuccessful and the group was defeated, but his ideas
A: No, I don't agree with this neat and simple text book analysis,
because even prior to '58 the feudals owned not only the
rural areas but also a huge portion of the urban areas.
Hotels, factories, and residential areas belonged to them as
well as the village. The majority of peasants' were therefore
proletarians, but with a far worse living standard than their
Q: In 1958 Qasim and the Free Officers seized power and
ousted the Monarchy, but some of the gains were
A: That's true but the significant thing was the level of class
struggle. The Monarch and some of his ministers were killed
by those they called prostitutes. For one year or so no one
could control the workers. Even the I.C.P. which
unfortunately had a massive base within the population
(despite its attacks on the working class) could not control
the angry proletariat, basically because workers were armed.
People took food from the shops without paying for them.
For them money was obsolete.
Q: I hear that even the Koran was desecrated by the workers.
A: Yes that's absolutely right. They understood the reactionary
nature of Islam. Also in Kirkuk about 90 generals, capitalists
and landlords were taken to the road, had a rope put round
their necks and dragged around by car until they were killed.
I.C.P. denounced the actions and tried to distance
themselves from workers' "excesses".
But gradually with land reforms, the rising price of oil
and loans from USSR, the government managed to stabilise
the situation in the South. Kurdistan was more resistant.
Armed peasants groups (e.g. in Halabja) were not
intimidated by either the state or the I.C.P. and took over the
land that the escapee owners had left (mostly fleeing to
neighbouring Iran). The absentee landowners would send
assassins to Iraq and with the connivance of the military kill
a revolutionary and then flee to the safety of Iran.
the manner of its defeat to be distorted without challenge"
hence this text.
The failure of the working class to recognize its own class
interests as distinct from the "national interest" and sabotage
the war effort can only serve to deepen the divisions amongst
our international class along national lines. Cur rulers will now
be that much more confident of conducting murderous wars
unopposed elsewhere in the world, a confidence they have
lacked since the working class ended the Vietnam war by
mutinies, desertion, strikes and riots.
OPPOSITION TO THE WAR IN IRAQ
There has been a long tradition of class struggle in Iraq,
particularly since the revolution in 1958. With Saddam's
strategy of a permanent war drive to maintain social peace this
struggle has often taken the form of mass desertion from the
army. During the Iraq-lran war tens of thousands of soldiers
deserted the army. This swelled the mass working class
opposition to the war. With the unreliability of the army it
became increasingly difficult for the Iraqi state to put down
such working class rebellions. It was for this reason that
Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against the town of
Halabja in 1988.
Following the invasion of Kuwait there were many
demonstrations against its continued occupation. Even the
ruling Ba'athist Party was obliged to organize such
demonstrations under the slogan: "No to Kuwait: We only want
Saddam and Iraq!" in order to head off anti-war feeling. With the
dramatic rise in the price of necessities - food prices alone
rising to twenty times their pre-invasion levels - there was little
enthusiasm for war. The common attitude throughout Iraq was
one of defeatism.
Despite a 200% pay rise desertion from the army became
common. In the city of Sulaimania alone there were an
estimated 30,000 deserters. In Kut there were 20,000. So
overwhelming was the desertion that it became relatively easy
for soldiers to bribe their way out of the army by giving money to
their officers. But these working ciass conscripts did not mereiy
desert, they organised, in Kut thousands marched on the iocai
poiice station and forced the poiice to concede an end to the
harassment of deserters.
Two days after the beginning of the war, anti-war riots broke
out in Raniah and iater in Suiaimania.
This leaflet was produced by revolutionaries from Iraq and
Britain. For more copies or correspondence we can be
contacted by writing as follows: BM CAT, London WCIN 3XX, UK,
or PO BOX 3305, Oakland, CA 94609, USA. TO BE A PATRIOT IS
TO BE AN ASSASSIN!
The Class Struggle in Iraq -
An Interview with a Veteran
The following interview was first published in 'Workers Scud - no patriot can
catch us!' (London, June 1991), a collection of articles reflecting on the Gulf
Q: Can you briefiy teii us about the ciass struggie in Iraq before
the overthrow of the monarchy in 1958?
A: In the 1940's and early 1950's the class struggle was mainly
situated in the rural areas. Peasant uprisings (e.g. in Aali-
azarchi which lasted about 3 years before being violently
suppressed) were a constant headache for the semi-feudal
landowners and the state.
Urban struggles intensified with the nine-day strike of
Kirkuk oil workers in 1946 (put down with loss of 10 lives).
Unemployment and homelessness were rampant. There
were thousands of sarifas (shacks made of palm branches)
around and inside Baghdad.
1956 (Suez Crisis) had a massive impact on Iraq, with
demonstrations against the Iraqi regime who were seen as
British stooges. The Palestinian issue also helped
radicalisation. I still wonder why there wasn't a revolution in
195611 These internal and external events led to the
formation of the Free Officers ('nationalist/Nasserist) who
had links with the Iraqi 'Communist' Party (I.C.P.) but not so
much with the Ba'ths.
Q: The way I see it there were two main contradictions in the
Iraqi society at this time (1946- 58). One between the
emerging proletarian movement and capitalism and one,
left over from the past, between capitalism and the feudalist
landlords. Do you agree?